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Sweet Nightingale

[ Roud 371 ; Ballad Index K089 ; Wiltshire Roud 371 ; trad.]

Inglis Gundry included Sweet Nightingale in both trio and duet setting in his book Canow Kernow: Songs and Dances from Cornwall (The Federation of Old Cornwall Societies, 1966). The words are from Robert Bell's Ancient Poems of the Peasantry of England (1857) and the tune was collected by Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould from E.G. Stevens of St. Ives, Cornwall. Gundry commented that

Baring-Gould tells us that “a good many old men in Cornwall” gave him this song “and always to the same air”, which may explain why it is still so widespread. “They assert,” he continues, “that it is a duet”.

The words of Sweet Nightingale were first published in Robert Bell's Ancient Poems of the Peasantry of England, 1857, with the note: “This curious ditty—said to be a translation from the ancient Cornish tongue… we first heard in Germany… The singers were four Cornish miners, who were at that time, 1854, employed at some lead mines near the town of Zell. The leader, or captain, John Stocker, said that the song was an established favourite with the lead miners of Cornwall and Devonshire, and was always sung on the pay-days and at the wakes; and that his grandfather, who died 30 years before at the age of a hundred years, used to sing the song, and say that it was very old.” Unfortunately Bell failed to get a copy either of words or music from these miners, and relied in the end on a gentleman of Plymouth who “was obliged to supply a little here or there, but only when a bad rhyme, or rather none at all, made it evident what the real rhyme was. I have read it over to a mining gentleman at Truro, and he says it is pretty near the way we sing it.”

One of the lyrics in [Thomas] Arne's ballad opera Thomas and Sally (1761) has similarities with the words given by Bell, but Arne's tune is quite different.

Gundry did not mention that this in not the innocent pastoral idyll that it looks at first glance: To “hear the nightingale sing” is an euphemism for making love, in the same way that the “Cuckoo's nest” is an euphemism for the region of such activity.

Sandy Denny and Mick Groves of The Spinners sang Sweet Nightingale on the BBC 1 TV Show “The Spinners” on April 22, 1971. This recording was included in 2007 on her 3CD+DVD set Live at the BBC.

Peter Bellamy and Louis Killen sang Sweet Nightingale live at the Folk Studio, Norwich, on June 22, 1971. A concert recording was released half a year later on their LP Won't You Go My Way?.

This video shows Sevenoaks (Charlie Snooks, vocals; David Jordan, double bass; Mark Potts, guitar) performing Sweet Nightingale at the Eden Project, Cornwall, in April 2007:

Jon Boden sang Sweet Nightingale as the May 13, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He commented in his blog:

A gentle little song with a great chorus. We sing this at Royal Traditions nights at the Royal in Dungworth.

Jackie Oates sang Sweet Nightingale on her 2011 CD Saturnine. This video shows her as part of the John Jones and the Reluctant Ramblers gig at Broadwindsor in 2010:

Lyrics

Sweet Nightingale as printed in Canow Kernow

My sweetheart, come along, don't you hear the fond song,
The sweet notes of the nightingale flow?
Don't you hear the fond tale of the sweet nightingale
𝄆 As she sings in the valley below. 𝄇

Pretty Betty, don't fail, for I'll carry your pail
Safe home to your cot as we go.
You shall hear the fond tale of the sweet nightingale
𝄆 As she sings in the valley below. 𝄇

Pray let me alone, I have hands of my own;
Along with you, sir, I'll not go.
For to hear the fond tale of the sweet nightingale
𝄆 As she sings in the valley below. 𝄇

Pray sit yourself down with me on the ground,
On this bank where the primroses grow.
You shall hear the fond tale of the sweet nightingale
𝄆 As she sings in the valley below. 𝄇

This couple agreed to be married with speed
And soon to the church they did go.
Never more she's afraid for to walk in the shade
𝄆 Or to sit in these valleys below. 𝄇

Sandy Denny and Mick Groves sing Sweet Nightingale

Pretty maid, come along, don't you hear the sweet song,
The sweet notes of the nightingale sing?
Don't you hear the fond tale of the sweet nightingale
𝄆 As she sings in the valley below. 𝄇

Pretty Sandy, don't fail, for I'll carry your pail
Safe home to your cot as we go.
You shall hear the fond tale of the sweet nightingale
𝄆 As she sings in the valley below. 𝄇

Pray let me alone, I have hands of my own,
And along with you, sir, I'll not go
For to hear the fond tale of the sweet nightingale
𝄆 As she sings in the valley below. 𝄇

Come sit yourself down with me on the ground,
Stay here where the primroses grow.
You shall hear the fond tale of the sweet nightingale
𝄆 As she sings in the valley below. 𝄇

This couple agreed and were married with speed
And soon to the church they did go.
No more is she afraid for to walk in the shade
Or 𝄆 to lie in the valley below. 𝄇

Peter Bellamy and Louis Killen sing Sweet Nightingale

My sweetheart, come along, don't you hear the fine song,
The sweet notes of the nightingale flow?
Don't you hear the fond tale of the sweet nightingale
𝄆 As she sings in the valley below. 𝄇

Pretty Betsy, don't fail, I will carry your pail
Straight home to your cot as we go.
You will hear the fond tale of the sweet nightingale
𝄆 As she sings in the valley below. 𝄇

Pray leave me alone, I have hands of my own,
And along with you, sir, I'll not go
For to hear the fond tale of the sweet nightingale
𝄆 As she sings in the valley below. 𝄇

Come sit yourself down here with me on the ground,
On this bank where the primroses grow.
Here we'll hear the fond tale of the sweet nightingale
𝄆 As she sings in the valley below. 𝄇

So she sat herself down there with him on the ground,
On the banks where the primroses grow.
And she heard the fond tale of the sweet nightingale
𝄆 As she sings in the valley below. 𝄇

Now this couple agreed to get married with speed
And straight to the church they did go.
Never more she's afraid for to sit in the shade
𝄆 Nor to lie in the valley below. 𝄇

Links

See also the discussion in the Mudcat café thread Cornish Nightingale.